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Magic 100 Words for New Readers and Speakers of English

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 1/20/2012

So what is the Magic 100 Words (M100W) system, and why is it creating such a following? This bright, colorful system makes teaching sight words a breeze for ESL students at many levels. M100W breaks words into sections and teaches the most commonly used words first.

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    About the Magic 100 Words

    The Magic 100 words M100W system is based on research which says that when everyday running text is analyzed, there are certain words which appear more frequently than others. M100W is based on building a sight words vocabulary that can be recognized even before phonetic understanding of English has developed. By using this method as one of your teaching strategies for English language learners, it will build a good word bank quickly, thus makes it easier for them to become fluent readers of English text. Particularly for young children, learning these sight vocabulary words means they can then use the picture cues to provide information about the less frequently occurring words which are often nouns (such as objects, people, places, etc.) and are therefore often included in the picture of a simple text. Having a good sight vocabulary increases the readability of a text because the more common words have been learned and the less common ones are shown in the pictures accompanying the text.

    The website (see above) for viewing online information about the Magic 100 words or M100W system shows many of the activities and approaches available through this system for learning English.

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    Sight Vocabulary

    The Magic 100 words allows learners to build up a basic sight words vocabulary they can read, pronounce and spell. For more information on spelling words correctly, read this Bright Hub article on Word Web. Remember, though, that this is just one of your teaching strategies for English language learners - it should not be your only one. A sight vocabulary knowledge is a helpful teaching strategy for English language learners in addition to other systems of reading and speaking English, like teaching learners to 'sound out' (phonetics) or use context cues to solve challenging words.

    In the 100 Magic Words system, the words are divided into colors, and are learned in order from most commonly used to less commonly used. So, once learners know the 12 'Golden' words, they have already mastered the words which make up around one quarter of all text. If they are then able to learn the next 20 'Red' words, they have learned the words which make up one third of all text in total.

    Once English learners have gained some initial skills in sight words vocabulary and decoding, they are ready for more complex literacy resources.

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    The Magic 100 Words M100W Kit

    There are many resources which come as part of the Magic 100 Words system for learning sight words. The system can be used in schools, but would be also helpful for parents in home schooling situations, or for learners who are new to English. Resources include:

    • charts of the various word groups
    • charts of the whole Magic 100 words
    • information for parents and teachers
    • card games and activities to help learn English

    The basic starter pack from M100W is available from the online store for Magic 100 Words.

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    Great for Students Who Are Not Great At Phonics

    As with most areas of learning, M100W will not suit all language learners. It can work well with learners who have a visual learning style, and are able to use methods such as looking at a word, covering it over and then being able to 'see' the word in their memory. For learners new to English, it would be useful to ensure they practice saying the word aloud, and not become reliant on only reading the words as their sight words vocabulary. It's also great for students who struggle with learning through phonics methods, and those who have auditory processing difficulties. Many students who have strong visual memory skills may find this approach easier than the phonics based methods, as they are better able to 'see' the word in their mind after they have looked at it on paper.

    Of course, learning to spell in English is a whole other challenge...